A new year brings new HR challenges for all businesses. From the rise of the blended workforce to changes to penalty rates and employer-sponsored visas, here are the 5 most important developments we think every manager and business owner needs to know about.
1. The growing realisation of the prevalence of sexual harassment in workplaces
Workplace sexual harassment continues to dominate headlines, both in Australia and overseas.
The Australian Human Rights Commission’s 2012 national telephone survey found that one in four women and one in six men had experienced sexual harassment in the workplace in the past five years.
If those same figures apply to your workforce, that’s somewhere between a sixth and a quarter of all employees.
Expect this issue to remain in the spotlight over 2018 and prepare your business accordingly. Ask yourself, are you doing all you can to prevent sexual harassment occurring in your workplace? After all, as an employer, you may be held legally responsible for any acts of sexual harassment your employees engage in. This is called “vicarious liability”.
In fact, the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 makes employers liable for their employees’ acts of sexual harassment unless they have taken all reasonable steps to prevent them from happening. While there’s no uniform standard when it comes to what constitutes reasonable steps, at a minimum this includes:
● Having a sexual harassment policy in place and communicating it to all employees,
● Providing training and education on a regular basis so that all your people know exactly what sexual harassment is and what they should do if they are experiencing inappropriate behaviour, and
● Taking appropriate action if sexual harassment does occur.
If you don’t have sufficient sexual harassment policies and procedures in place, make sure that changes asap (get in touch if you need help).
2. Abolition of the 457 visa program
2017 saw some major changes to immigration and visa requirements, especially around 457 visas. The English language requirements were tightened and the list of approved occupations was reduced. The Department of Immigration also began making sure section 457 visa holders weren’t being underpaid, collecting their Tax File Numbers and reconciling them with ATO records.
From March 2018, the 457 visa will be abolished and replaced with the Temporary Skill Shortage (TSS) visa. As we wrote in 2017, the changes this scheme brings - especially around the requirement to prove local workers aren’t being disadvantaged - will affect businesses that genuinely do struggle to find talent. It will also make it harder for workers on this skilled migration visa to become permanent Australian residents.
If you’re worried about how the changes might impact on your business or, if you need to sponsor a worker and don’t know how, get in touch.
3. A growing need to do something about the gender pay gap
A lot has been said about the gender pay gap but 2017 was the year a lot of businesses did something about it, with the Workplace Gender Equality Agency finding that 37% of employers completed a gender pay gap review during the year - up from 26% from 2016.
Agency data shows that more than half of organisations that complete a gender pay gap analysis go on to take some form of action. Most commonly, employers identify the cause of the gap, report the metrics to the executive team and review their remuneration decision-making processes.
Organisations should be analysing pay gaps in like-for-like roles, at each professional level and across the entire organisation.
As talented employees are likely to be particularly concerned about the gender pay gap, ensuring there isn't one is a powerful staff attraction and retention device. For that reason alone, why not make 2018 the year that pay equity hits your business?
4. The rise and rise of the blended workforce to allow greater flexibility
A blended workforce is one that comprises consultants, independent contractors and part-time or casual staff, alongside the full-time workforce. It also incorporates well-communicated policies around flexibility in the workplace.
Many employers now see the value in this model, not least because of the increased creativity, diversity and innovation it can bring. It also provides flexibility in terms of resourcing levels, and can also have a positive effect on employee engagement, retention and productivity. Care must be taken however, in moving to a blended model, as if you get the technicalities wrong, there can be legal repercussions.
In our experience, the key to getting a blended workforce right comes down to setting clear expectations and communicating effectively. We can help you with assessing whether a this approach to the composition of your workforce might work for your business, and we can work with you to then take advantage of the many benefits of the model.
5. Penalty rates to change
Penalty rates were cut in 2017. In 2018, they will be cut a further 10% for workers in fast food and hospitality and they’ll be cut again next year.
For workers in retail and pharmacy, these rates will come down 15% with another 15% in 2019 and again in 2020.
To help you plan and prepare for these changes, Fair Work has a pay calculator. You can also can read more about your pay obligations here. If you're not sure whether the changes apply to you or your staff, give us a call.